The Annunciation by Fra Angelico. Early Renaissance fresco. Convent of San Marco, Florence, ca. 1440-45. Image courtesy of Magnus Manske and Wikipedia.
[This essay is part Q in my series, An A-Z of Unanswered Objections to Christianity on the crisis on Christian apologetics. Other parts completed to date:F. Angels, demons and aliens and H. Human Origins.]
The question I wish to discuss in this post is not “Is it true that Jesus was virginally conceived?” or even “Is it possible that Jesus was virginally conceived?” but “Is there any good evidence (historical, prophetic or otherwise) that Jesus was virginally conceived?” What I want to argue in today’s post is that even for someone who accepts the evidence for Jesus’ bodily resurrection, the evidence for Jesus’ virginal conception is unpersuasive and the arguments marshaled in support of it are riddled with fallacies.
I would like to make it clear at the outset that I am not asserting that Jesus was conceived naturally. Generations of Christians down the ages have drawn hope and inspiration from their belief that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, and who am I to contradict them? After all, I’m one of them. What I am questioning is not the belief itself, but the justification for treating it as an essential teaching of the faith, as the vast majority of Christians continue to do (e.g. Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Lutherans, Calvinists and “Evangelical Christians”). As far as I can tell, there is no rational justification for doing so, and any attempt to argue for the Virgin Birth is sheer foolishness. Treating the doctrine as a “hill to die on” can only damage the credibility of Christianity, because it turns every argument against the doctrine into an argument against Christianity. Here’s why I think we should at least listen to the doubters, and why Christians who choose to believe in Jesus’ virginal conception should do so tentatively, acknowledging that they might, after all, be mistaken.
In the latest post in my previous thread I quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson. The first paragraph read:
Polarity, or action and reaction, we meet in every part of nature; in darkness and light, in heat and cold; in the ebb and flow of waters; in male and female; in the inspiration and expiration of plants and animals; in the systole and diastole of the heart; in the undulations of fluids and of sound; in the centrifugal and centripetal gravity; in electricity, galvanism, and chemical affinity. Superinduce magnetism at one end of a needle, the opposite magnetism takes place at the other end. If the south attracts, the north repels. To empty here, you must condense there. An inevitable dualism bisects nature, so that each thing is a half, and suggests another thing to make it whole; as, spirit, matter; man, woman; subjective, objective; in, out; upper, under; motion, rest; yea, nay.
The term, ‘life force’ will most probably invoke many criticisms and objections. But if we take it to mean observed vitality and let it stand at that without speculating any further, we can study its ‘ebb and flow’ in the natural world around us. We can see these processes in a wide variety of life forms. Continue reading
In a post over at EN Brian Miller asks “how can truth prevail”.
In the Evolution Debate, How Truth Can Prevail
This invites the question of why truth ought to prevail, a question his post does not even attempt to answer.
Given the opposition to truth at TSZ, why should truth prevail at TSZ?
Of course this should normally be a domestic affair for the people of the United States of America. But this year seems so extraordinary in many ways. I’m following events with interest, hope and alarm (not necessarily in that order). In 2016, I posted my thoughts on the imminent election, never for one moment thinking that the US would elect Donald Trump as president. Boy, was I wrong. Can I be wrong again? What do others think? Not that we have long to wait.
Vote early and vote often!
As discussed here extensively, nothing in “evolution” makes any sense: “natural selection, fitness, speciation, human evolution, gradualism, divergence of character, UCD, TOL, etc. etc.” Not one makes sense. Meanwhile, the “evolution” argument is just one big “affirms the consequent” logical fallacy, while Paley’s excellent argument has never been overturned, and an intuitive intelligent design detector can be used to easily disprove “evolution”. Is there a need for any more proofs? Not really. Are there any other proofs? You bet. Take entropy for instance… Continue reading
Astronaut Charles Duke became a Christian after he returned to Earth after being the youngest man to ever walk on the moon and after finding himself in a troubled marriage and problems with alcoholism. The Christian faith restored his marriage and brought sobriety into his life, and sometime thereafter he led a prayer meeting where a blind girl recovered her sight. Somewhere in all his life’s saga, he also became a Creationist.
One of the people who posted at TheSkepticalZone, Richard B. Hoppe (RBH), knew of Duke, perhaps even personally since RBH worked on the Apollo program intimately. When I confronted RBH about Duke’s Christianity and Creationism, RBH (normally quick to criticize Christian Creationists) became strangely silent. No one to my knowledge has questioned Charles Duke’s credibility or integrity as far a making up stories to draw attention to himself or make Christian converts. After all, he was a national hero, an air force general, an astronaut, and a successful businessman. Unlike a televangelist, there is little reason for him to make up stories of miracles.
I had the privilege of meeting Charle Duke when he spoke at a College Christian event…
David Nemati and Eric Holloway, “Expected Algorithmic Specified Complexity.” Bio-Complexity
2019 (2):1-10. doi:10.5048/BIO-C.2019.2
Eric Holloway has returned to The Skeptical Zone, following a long absence. He expects to get responses to his potshot at phylogenetic inference, though he has never answered three questions of mine about his own work on algorithmic specified complexity. Here I abbreviate and clarify the recap I previously posted, and introduce remarks on the questions.
If there is a fundamental flaw in the second half, as you claim, then I’ll retract it if it is unfixable.
— Eric Holloway, January 2, 2020
For the past month or so I’ve been investigating the claim that the phylogenetic signal is evidence that a dataset shares common descent.
Supposedly, the phylogenetic signal is one of, if not the, strongest pieces of evidence for common descent. It is one of the first of the 29+ evidences for evolution offered over at Talk Origins (TO).
Quoting from the article:
The degree to which a given phylogeny displays a unique, well-supported, objective nested hierarchy can be rigorously quantified. Several different statistical tests have been developed for determining whether a phylogeny has a subjective or objective nested hierarchy, or whether a given nested hierarchy could have been generated by a chance process instead of a genealogical process (Swofford 1996, p. 504). These tests measure the degree of “cladistic hierarchical structure” (also known as the “phylogenetic signal”) in a phylogeny, and phylogenies based upon true genealogical processes give high values of hierarchical structure, whereas subjective phylogenies that have only apparent hierarchical structure (like a phylogeny of cars, for example) give low values (Archie 1989; Faith and Cranston 1991; Farris 1989; Felsenstein 1985; Hillis 1991; Hillis and Huelsenbeck 1992; Huelsenbeck et al. 2001; Klassen et al. 1991).
I’ve been skeptical of this claim. A tree is just one kind of directed acyclic graph (DAG), and my hunch is many kinds of DAGs will also score highly on metrics for phylogenetic signal. I picked one metric, the consistency index (CI), which according to Klassen 1991 is the most widely used metric. It also is the featured metric in the above TO article. Plus, it is very simple to calculate. So, I’ve focused my efforts on the CI metric. Continue reading
In this series of videos Johannas Jaeger gives us some very interesting things to consider. He considers proteins to be pleomorphic assemblies not molecular machines.
Jaeger doesn’t believe in, nor feel the need to propose any extrinsic form of vitalism, but he does accept what Denis Walsh called methodological vitalism. If organisms are purposeful then it is an intrinsic purposefulness.
If we are to gain a meaningful understanding of the organism the machine metaphor will in no way suffice. Life is self-sustaining at all levels. The symbol of the caduceus is apt at so many levels, from the double helix of DNA to the movement of the solar system as it travels around the galaxy. Here is a link to a gif of the motion of the planets relative to the sun. Our hearts take on their form by the layers of muscle being laid down in a helical manner as the blood spirals onward. Continue reading
Nonlin.org has a burning desire to discuss sexual selection. So, let’s.
The topic was tangential (though not entirely unrelated) to the evolutionary psychology thread. Nonlin was unable to restrain his contempt for his interlocutors, and so his final missive was guanoed. The opportunity to repost was declined, as guanoing is ‘censorship’ (in plain sight!) and a ‘white flag’ allowing nonlin to declare victory and strut around like … well … a peacock.
This topic has recently come up in another thread & deserves its own thread, rather than getting lost there.
It started with KN asking CharlieM: “Are there really such ‘Darwinian extremists’ or are you just making them up?”
I responded: “The list of Darwinian extremists in SSH is considerable, not that it’s likely anyone here is even aware of this, such that they could come up with a list themselves.” http://theskepticalzone.com/wp/what-mixture-of-design-and-evolution-is-possible-as-the-idm-collapses/comment-page-24/#comment-279711
Left: The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner (1898). Philadelphia Museum of Art. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
Right: Diorama of a Grey extra-terrestrial by G. W. Dodson, Roswell UFO Museum, Roswell, New Mexico, USA. Image courtesy of mr_t_77 from WV, USA and Wikipedia.
Let me begin with a confession. Temperamentally, I’m very much disposed to believing in angels – and aliens too, for that matter. I would certainly echo Hamlet’s famous saying, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” The notion that human beings are the most intelligent creatures in existence strikes me as a monstrous vanity.
Now, I don’t claim to know what other kinds of intelligences exist in our cosmos. But one thing I do know: both angels and aliens pose genuine conundrums for would-be defenders of the Christian faith. In a nutshell:
[For a brief explanation of my “An A-Z of Unanswered Objections to Christianity” series, and for the skeptical tone of this article, please see here. I’m starting my A-Z series with the letter H, and I’ll be zipping around the alphabet, in the coming weeks.]
In this article, I take aim at the Christian teaching that there was a special moment in history at which humans, who were made in the image of God, came into existence, and that a sharp line can be drawn between man and beast. I argue that on purely scientific grounds, it can be shown that such a view is highly unlikely. If the scientific arguments I put forward here are correct, then Christianity is in very big trouble.
The sinking of the Titanic, by Willy Stöwer, 1912.
During the past 25 years, there has been a dramatic resurgence in Christian apologetics, as many talented individuals have written books and given public speeches in defense of the Christian faith. Some of these people have even gone so far as to claim that we are now living in the Golden Age of Christian apologetics (see here, here and here). More books are being published than ever before, and the New Atheist movement, which appeared so powerful ten years ago, has largely fizzled out. The future looks good – or does it?
In this series, I’m going to explain in detail why I believe this rosy view is utterly mistaken, and why Christians are actually facing a thirty-year winter. Continue reading
Over at the “IDM collapse” thread I rather churlishly rejected CharlieM’s invitation to read an extensive piece by Stephen L. Talbott. Discovering he is a fan of Velikovsky did little to encourage me (that is, I fully realise, an argument from authority, but life is short and authors many. One needs a filter). What did catch my eye, however, is the fact that he is a contributor to Third Way of Evolution. This, on their front page, is what one might term their ‘manifesto’. Continue reading
This offers the simplest “neutral” colloquial mixture of “design” and “evolution” that I’ve seen in a long time. The site is no longer maintained, but the language persists.
“As a designer it is important to understand where design came from, how it developed, and who shaped its evolution. The more exposure you have to past, current and future design trends, styles and designers, the larger your problem-solving toolkit. The larger your toolkit, the more effective of a designer you can be.” http://www.designishistory.com/this-site/
Here, the term “evolution” as used just meant “history”. The author was not indicating “design theory evolution”, but rather instead the “history of designs” themselves, which have been already instantiated. Continue reading
Alan doesn’t believe that there are any other proposed explanations to rival ‘evolutionary theory’. At least none that so effectively account for the facts.
It is often said that there is no single theory of evolution, there are a group of mutually consistent theories. Be that as it may, I think we all understand the point Alan is making.
Evolution is a process whereby life has somehow emerged from a lifeless physical world and there is no overall teleology involved in its diversification. The reproductive processes produce a natural variety of forms which can take advantage of previously unoccupied niches. The basic sequence of events from primal to present are: lifeless minerals, water systems and gaseous atmosphere, followed by the arrival of simple prokaryote life forms, followed by multicellular organisms. Life is solely the product of physical and chemical processes acting on lifeless matter.
In this view life is nothing special, it just occurred because physical matter chanced to arrange itself in a particular way. And consciousness is just a by product of life.
But I suggest that there is an alternative way in which life as we perceive it could have come about.
Yesterday afternoon, acting on a recommendation by evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne, I sat down and listened to a 43-minute Scientific American podcast featuring Stanford biology professor and hard determinist Robert Sapolsky being interviewed by Robert Mirsky, on the topic, “Your brain, free will and the law.” Suffice to say that I was underwhelmed. I had high expectations, as Professor Sapolsky is not only a well-published author (whose most recent work is Behave: The Biology of Humans at our Best and Worst), but also a professor of biological sciences, neurology and neurological sciences at Stanford University and a research associate at the National Museums of Kenya. I was both disappointed and amused with what I heard: disappointed with the complete absence of any rigorous argument against the existence of free will, and amused by the fake history related by Sapolsky, in the course of his interview with Robert Mirsky. By the way, for those readers who are looking for a critique of the doctrine of free will that’s both hard-hitting and substantive, I’d recommend the online writings of physicist Sabine Hossenfelder – in particular, her articles, How to live without free will, Free will is dead, let’s bury it and The Free Will Function: Free will from the perspective of a particle physicist (but see also the conclusion to her prize-winning 2018 essay, The Case for Strong Emergence, in which she acknowledges a gap in her argument). [Full disclosure here: I have previously critiqued Dr. Hossenfelder’s arguments against free will, and although I continue to find her case less than convincing, I would now acknowledge her general point that top-down causation alone won’t rescue free will.]
Back to Sapolsky. Since he’s a professor of biology, neurology and neurosurgery, I had hoped that he would at least attempt to summarize the biological case against free will, but he didn’t. He alluded to experiments by Benjamin Libet, noted in passing that there were multiple interpretations of these experiments, and then proceeded to his central argument: the “shrinking pie” argument, which relied on a very heavy dollop of fake history. In a nutshell: science has already shown that we are not responsible for X, Y and Z, so in time, science will show that we are not responsible for any of our actions. (By the way, Sapolsky is a hard determinist, who has no time for compatibilism and who eschews any notions of personal responsibility for our actions: as he puts it in his podcast, “We have no control, ultimately, over anything we do… We have no agency, and the criminal justice system does not make any sense at all.”)
So, what’s wrong with the “shrinking pie” argument? Everything.
A group of scientists and economists has devised a simple, tunable strategy for achieving exponential decrease in the number of new cases of Covid-19 while partially reopening the economy — or so it seems to me. The simplest form of the strategy is to alternate between consecutive days of work and consecutive days of lockdown. Although I am reluctant to add to the cacophony of inexpert opinions on how to deal with the pandemic, I will say that the strategy obviously works in an epidemiologic sense if the number of workdays per two-week cycle is sufficiently small. Furthermore, it is obvious that the number of workdays can be adjusted in response to the number of new cases. However, it is not obvious that can be set sufficiently high for the strategy to work in an economic sense. Modeling reported in the preprint “Cyclic Exit Strategies to Suppress COVID-19 and Allow Economic Activity” indicates that is likely to be sufficiently small. In other words, it seems that people might work half-time ( hours per two-week period) while driving the number of new cases toward zero. I am not qualified to judge epidemiological models, but will note that the results make sense if it is indeed the case that there is a “three-day delay on average between the time a person is infected and the time he or she can infect others.”
To be perfectly clear, I have not become a true believer in a strategy addressed in a preprint. I am saying that we should reject the notion that the pandemic will end only with herd immunity. It is not irrational to say that there may be, in the absence of an effective vaccination program, practicable methods of preventing most people from being infected, and that we should keep looking for them.